Fresh from the Rough Riders campaign of Theodore Roosevelt in Cuba, Sgt. Lee George Rogers of Texas came to the Philippines in 1898 as part of the invading US army that would launch war upon the Filipinos in February the following year.
Rogers later fell in love with a beauty from Santo Tomas, Batangas, Ricarda Malolos, who at first warded off the advances of the aggressive American sergeant. So Rogers kidnapped Ricarda’s father and, being good in language and having learned Tagalog by this time, told the father: “Kung ipapakasal mo ako sa iyong anak, pakakawalan kita (I will free you if you allow me to marry your daughter).”
“He was not an evil man, just naughty,” laughed the actress-director-teacher Naty Crame Rogers, 91, the future daughter-in-law of Lee George. The latter was further quoted as claiming that, “itong si Ricarda, hahakbangan ko lang buntis na (I just step toward her and she becomes pregnant).”
So, the father agreed, Lee George and Ricarda were married, and she bore him 14 children, four of whom died at an early age.
The middle child of Lee George and Ricarda was Joe, who married the then Naty Crame, became a fighter pilot of the Philippine Air Force, organized the Basa Air Base in Floridablanca, Pampanga, and served with the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO) in Bangkok, where he turned over classified material to his wife so she could correct the grammar.
“I had a terrible time adjusting to a Filipino-American,” recalled Naty. “But of course I was very happy. I thought it was an adventurous way of getting married.”
Naty’s father was Ramon Crame, a musician-composer who played with the Tirso Cruz Band at the Manila Hotel. Ramon’s father was Gen. Rafael Crame, after whom Camp Crame is named. Naty is a bit put off by the negative implication of the military camp’s name, as in “na-Crame ka (you were detained).”
Ramon Crame had many daughters but no son, and he grieved that no one would be left to carry on the family name, the male relatives having departed for foreign shores. So, Naty promised him that she would always include her maiden name in her full name, and not just an initial.
Alone but not lonely
All of her loved ones are now gone: her parents, in-laws, husband, only child (Ralph, a visual artist), and all her sisters. Naty lives in a rented house in Brgy. Kapitolyo, Pasig City, attended by two caregivers, surrounded by mementos of the past, frail of health but mentally alert, and with an indomitable spirit.
Last year, Naty had a house which was a living museum, but she was hospitalized for many months. The bills piled up, and she was forced to sell the house and some of its artworks. There was even one oblation which was stolen when she moved house.
“What would one do with an oblation?” she wondered.
The modest apartment, rectangular in shape, still has its share of prints and paintings (some by her son Ralph), as well as religious artifacts, celadon, family photos, a portrait of Joe and Naty by a famous Thai artist, male angels, Ming jars, and mounted posters of Teatro Filipino plays.
The years in Bangkok have given her insights into the traditions of the Buddhist religion, founded on peace and charity. “The only way to find peace is in charity,” Naty says. “In Thailand the people are never violent, despite the turmoil in Bangkok right now. They just want to stress a point. Peace and charity are found in the Thai expression ‘never mind.’”
She concludes: “I guess my elders were like that. My mother would say ‘put everything in order.’ And my lolo (grandfather) would say, ‘cuando orden los capitanes, no orden los marineros (when the captains order, the sailors obey).’ In short, remember where your place is.”